Senate Democrats are sending the strongest signal that they plan to put up a fight against Jeff Sessions’ nomination as the next attorney general, warning Republicans that the Alabama senator won’t have a quick and easy confirmation just because he’s a colleague.
In a new letter obtained by POLITICO, the eight Democrats who will sit on the Judiciary Committee next year give a glimpse of the strategy they’ll pursue when the powerful panel takes up Sessions’ nomination next year. They are pushing for extensive confirmation hearings, giving senators ample time to thoroughly question Sessions, his views and how he’ll run the Justice Department.
Because Sessions has a hefty legislative history in numerous policy areas, Democrats are also pressing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for outside witnesses to testify on the Alabama senator’s track record on immigration, domestic violence, civil rights, voting rights, government oversight and several other issues in the purview of the Justice Department.
And Democrats warn that the process will be lengthy; when then-Sen. John Ashcroft was nominated as attorney general under the George W. Bush administration, he went through four days of confirmation hearings, which brought in testimony from four lawmakers and 19 outside witnesses, Democrats noted.
“We all have personal and cordial relationships with Senator Sessions and know him to be a strong advocate for his political positions,” the Democrats wrote in the letter, addressed to Grassley. “But as you know, his job as attorney general, if he is confirmed, will be different; he will have to be an independent attorney general who is willing to set aside personal beliefs and political positions in service of larger obligations.”
Sessions, Democrats added, has served in the Senate nearly three times longer than Ashcroft, and his nomination will “present a voluminous record spanning tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pages.”
Democrats who signed the letter aren’t saying they’ll vote against Sessions, although some Democrats who don’t sit on the committee have already signaled their opposition to the conservative senator’s elevation to Trump’s Cabinet.
With support already from several key GOP senators and at least one moderate Senate Democrat, Sessions — who only needs a simple majority of the Senate to be confirmed — is widely expected to become Trump’s first attorney general next year.
But Judiciary Democrats are setting the tone for the thorough scrutiny Sessions will face from Democrats both in the committee and on the Senate floor.
“When our country is struggling with so many divisions, the committee and the entire Senate must ask whether Senator Sessions is the right man to lead the agency charged with securing and protecting the constitutional and civil rights of all Americans,” the Democrats wrote in the letter.
Those who signed the letter include nearly all current Democrats on the Judiciary Committee: Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the current top Democrat; Dianne Feinstein of California, the incoming ranking member; Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Al Franken of Minnesota, Chris Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) currently sits on the Judiciary Committee, but caucus leaders traditionally don’t sign such letters and Schumer will not sit on the panel when it takes up Sessions’ nomination next year. The New York Democrat has similarly called for a thorough confirmation process for Sessions next year.
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